A former al Qaeda cook who pleaded guilty to war crimes at Guantánamo could go home to Sudan in the summer of 2012, under a secret deal just approved by a senior Pentagon official and made public Wednesday by the Defense Department.
Ibrahim al Qosi, 50, is the first Guantánamo captive to reach a war court settlement during the Obama administration.
A military jury gave him a symbolic 14-year sentence this summer, unaware of the secret plea deal that let the Sudanese man admit to conspiring with al Qaeda and providing material support for the terror group in exchange for a two-year sentence. He has already spent nine years in U.S. military custody, mostly at Guantánamo.
Retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, the senior Pentagon overseer of the Military Commissions, had the power to reduce the sentence even further.
Instead, MacDonald stuck to the original plea agreement, in war court documents released by the Defense Department late Wednesday. Qosi is currently segregated in a maximum-security prison at the remote U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba, in a cellblock reserved for war criminals after years classified as a complaint captive in a communal camp where prisoners ate, slept and prayed together in barracks. His lawyers had filed a clemency request protesting his isolated SuperMax-style prison conditions.
"He was moved to a facility where he was placed in a solitary cell; there is nothing in that cell but a bed, a sink, and a toilet,'' wrote his Pentagon defense attorney, Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier in a brief filed Jan. 14.
A Pentagon spokeswoman could not say Wednesday night whether MacDonalds order for release meant the United States would repatriate Qosi to his native Sudan in the summer of 2012 — or simply move him back to the general Guantánamo detainee population on July 7, 2012, when his prison term expires.
As of Wednesday, the Pentagon was holding 172 men as war prisoners at Guantánamo, only three of them convicted.
The other two are confessed Toronto-born teen terrorist Omar Khadr, 24, who secured a plea deal in the fall to return to his native Canada next year, and Bin Laden media secretary Ali Hamza al Bahlul, 41, serving a life for making al Qaeda recruitment films.
Prosecutors had leveled a range of accusations against Qosi across his years at the war court, and at one point alleged he handled the al Qaeda payroll in Khartoum before Bin Laden moved the terror group to Afghanistan in 1996. In the end, though, the Pentagon prosecutor was only permitted to press charges covering his time in Afghanistan, when he worked as a cook in a portion of an al Qaeda compound that housed single men in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
A U.S. agent who investigated Qosi said he had through his association with al Qaeda gained the trust of bin Laden's inner circle. Qosis civilian lawyer, Paul Reichler, had sought leniency from the military jury that gave him a 14-year sentence in July, arguing for a minimum sentence.
"We wouldnt send Al Capone's cook to jail for cooking for Al Capone," he said.
MacDonald closed the file on the Qosi case a week before the first military commission session of 2011 — a pre-trial hearing in the case of alleged terror trainer Noor Uthman Mohammed, also of Sudan, who faces material support and conspiracy charges.
Attorneys and Pentagon officials would not comment on whether negotiations were underway for a similar agreement in that case, currently the lone active war crimes prosecution at Guantánamo.